What Happens Now? Making the BIG College Decision

When factoring in all of the details involved in selecting a college, many students don’t know where to begin. Although selecting a college where you will spend the next 4-5 years of your life can be challenging, knowing yourself and what you value most makes the selection process much easier. We encourage you to reflect and select a school based on the factors that are most important to you. Below is a list of four factors that you should consider when choosing the right college. 

  1. NET COST

Net price is the college’s annual cost of attendance minus the grants, scholarships, and gift aid a student receives for one year of college. It only includes the forms of financial aid that a student does not have to repay or earn through work. If you come from a low-income household and selecting a college based on cost is important to you, we recommend that you rank each of your college admissions letters from least to greatest net cost. Remember that your net cost for a college will not include loans (money you have to pay back). 

Cost of Attendance  – Grants and Scholarships (FREE MONEY)   =   Net Cost (Out of Pocket Expense)

  1. LOCATION

Ask yourself the following questions when selecting a college:

  • What’s the climate like – warm and sunny or cold and snowy?
  • Is it in an urban, suburban, or rural area?
  • Is it close to your family or far away?
  • How close is transportation to get home (airports, train stations, etc.)?
  • Are there fun things to do off-campus?

The surrounding community places a big role in shaping the culture of a college campus. When visiting or taking virtual tours of schools, you also want to spend time researching the surrounding area to learn about public transportation, potential job/internship opportunities, and fun things to do off-campus. Some students prefer to stay close to family while other students prefer to keep a distance but stay close enough (1hr-2hrs away). Choose the location that is going to meet your needs. 

  1. MAJOR

If you already know your major, you should be looking at schools that offer your major and have highly recognized coursework and internship opportunities specific to your major.  If you have a top school in mind, and they don’t offer your major, be sure that the school offers a similar major (usually in the same department) that will lead you towards the same career path. If you don’t know what you want to study yet, we recommend that you look for a school that offers two to three majors that you are interested in exploring.  Be sure to check out how strong the programs and professors are in the various fields you are considering.

  1. SIZE OF SCHOOL

Large colleges (a student population of 15,000+)  tend to have more resources and facilities such as student housing, libraries,  health centers, athletic facilities, and sports stadiums. These large colleges also have bigger budgets to invest in faculty, classroom technology, and research opportunities. Remember that large institutions usually offer a wider variety of majors and usually have bigger classroom sizes.  

A large college might be the right fit for you if you meet the following criteria:

  • You can work and learn independently without much support from teachers.
  • You don’t mind professors not knowing your name unless you take the time to connect with them via office hours.
  • You want to have a large alumni network when you graduate.
  • You can keep yourself accountable to meeting with your academic advisor once a semester/quarter to ensure a successful path towards college graduation.

Small colleges have smaller student populations and have smaller classroom sizes. At small colleges, all the teaching is done by professors and TA’s are not usually involved. Because classroom sizes are smaller, you will have more opportunities to connect and collaborate with your professors. 

A small college might be the right fit for you if you meet the following criteria:

  • You usually need support from teachers and counselors.
  • You prefer small classrooms where you can interact with your classmates and professors.
  • You don’t plan on participating in research projects.
  • You want to see familiar faces on a small college campus and want your college to feel like a small intimate community. 

  1. CAMPUS LIFE/ACTIVITIES

Campus life consists of the high-impact practices, enrichment activities, and clubs available on your college campus. Multicultural student centers, fraternities/sororities, club sports, and student government would all fall under the campus life umbrella. If you wish to learn about an institution’s campus life/activities, we encourage you to visit the school’s website and explore videos of campus life on YouTube. We also highly recommend that you connect with alumni or current students at the school. Participation in campus-life related activities plays an important role in the academic, social and emotional growth and development of students. Research shows that students who have higher levels of student involvement tend to have grades are and are more likely to graduate in four years. 

Wherever you end up for college, remember – YOU BELONG. You worked hard to get here, so soak up all that you possibly can in your years at the institution of your choice. Lean on your support system, learn, and have fun along the way!

Katie Craig

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